Wreck-It Ralph Shines Bright with New Lighting and Effects Technology
While all the lighting and FX work was challenging, the teams spent the most time with Sugar Rush. It all boiled down to the fact that everything had to look like food. As Leach explained, “One big challenge, when we think of food, we’re used to seeing it presented as a single thing on a plate. You’re looking at is as ‘here is this thing I’m going to eat.’ When we turned it into a world where everything surrounding you is food, that made it more difficult to have it look yummy like we’re used to but at the same time, be presented to you in the context of an environment of trees and a ground plane I’m walking on.”
Scale was also big issue. Leach described how when you take cocoa powder or cake crumbs and turn it into an entire ground plane, your brain looks at it and thinks it’s just sand or dirt. That’s what you’re used to seeing, what you normally walk on and interact with. That’s your normal visual perspective, your frame of reference in the world around you. According to Kersavage, “This thing you’re used to looking at hanging on your Christmas tree is now a giant tree. We knew immediately when we were setting up cameras, ‘Wow, how are we going to get this to feel as vast and enormous as we want it to feel?’”
The iterative nature of the lighting and effects work meant change was inevitable as the film progressed. As Velazquez explained, story drives all the work and as it evolves over time, and at various points, there are markers, or “story drops” where things get issued into production as “good to go,” less likely to change. From here, all the assets can be readied for animation, camera move, lighting, texturing etc., and made ready to go. However, assets can change at any time as the story changes and as they are further refined and made to look better. “At the end of the day, you want the best work up on the screen. We’ve created a process at Disney where we can do a lot of iterations over time, rendering over and over and over again. Our renderfarm doubled in size over the course of this film and it helped us put a better film on the screen.”
Lusinsky remarked, “Our work was an iterative process. Many of the worlds we started off with are not in the movie any more. You see what sticks and what doesn’t. As you move forward, you have a better idea of what the story is going to be and things get better and better. This studio is really about pushing the limits as far as we can. If better ideas come up, in story or lighting and effects, we want to support making it better to the very end.”
“In the world of Sugar Rush, I love the way we were able to light all the food,” Lusinsky continued. “It looks spectacular and yummy. It was challenging to make everything look yummy and still get the cinematic lighting beats that we need to tell the story. The new BRDF allowed us to use translucency to get a gummy look, as well as a refractive shader for more of a Jolly Rancher candy look where you can see behind it. For other materials, we were able to see bubbles floating inside the medium. We’ve never been able to do anything like this before at the Studio.”
Hendrickson concluded, “I’m really proud of our BRDF breakthrough on this film. We wouldn’t have been able to make four distinct worlds economically without it. We would have had to curtail the creative ambition of Wreck-It Ralph and that is against the very essence of Disney. I’ve never seen another animation company do it as exacting as we do.”
Dan Sarto is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of AnimationWorld.